Things to love about Beijing…

It’s hardly an exhaustive list and is mostly based on observations and experiences from the past week or so, but I thought I’d jot down a few of my favorite things about the ‘Jing.

  • Beijing parks in the early morning.  Jingshan, Beihai, even tiny Nanguan…parks all over the city are bustling at 6:00 a.m. I’m certainly not a gerontologist, but there has to be a significant mental and physical benefit to seniors who participate in daily group exercise.  And the variety of activities is something to behold–dancing, tai chi, calligraphy, bird walking, one fellow who bends at the waist, legs straight, and walks on all fours for the length of the park (try this sometime, you won’t make it 10 yards).
  • The variety of great food available for less than 10 RMB.  Snacks, breakfast, lunch, noodles, chuan’r…you can live in Beijing and spend anywhere between 15 and 1500 kuai on dinner, and some of my 15 kuai dinners have been the better than a few fancy banquets I’ve attended by a long shot.
  • I like the new metro lines. The trains are comfortable and the two giant xiangqi boards built into the floor of the Dongsi Line 5 platform are a nice touch.
  • Hutong living.  YJ and I just moved into a small pingfang in a yard with about 19 other families.  The yard itself is cool and I love our little house, but the best part about living there are the neighbors.  Within a week of moving in, we’ve met just about everybody and it really seems like the residents all look out for each other.  (By contrast, we lived in our loufang for nearly two years and never exchanged more than a forced ‘ni hao’ with the yuppie across the hall.)  It’s also been fun sitting in the middle courtyard with the neighbors after dinner shooting the shit about whatever.  Good times.
  • Basketball.  You’re never far away from a court in Beijing and once you’re on the court, it’s easy to get into a game.  The skill level varies wildly among the local players, but the enthusiasm is always consistently high.  Generally speaking too, people are pretty good sports.  There will always be exceptions, but it’s usually a friendly atmosphere without a lot of egos getting in the way of a good game.
  • So many people are into history.  I love it when random interactions with strangers or passing acquaintances turn into 45 minute discussions of military strategy during the Ming-Qing transition.
  • Good move on the part of the municipality to go to odd/even days for cars.  It hasn’t really had any effect on the air quality, but it’s made the streets a lot nicer for bikes and pedestrians.  Personally, I wouldn’t have any objection to making the policy permanent after the games.
  • Ding zuo. You can have just about anything custom made in Beijing. Dining room table in the showroom too short? We’ll build it taller.  Need to hide the ugly refrigerator in the middle of your living room? Custom-made Qing style cabinet with no floor or back and an extra-wide door.  Good suits. Leather shoes. Whatever.  If you can draw a picture and give some idea of what size and color, somebody can make it for you.
  • The music scene. They’ll never get on the radio, but bands like Joyside, Snapline, Buyi, Brain Failure, and Second Hand Rose (to name only a very very few) play good music with passion.  Sure a lot of the bands might not have the greatest chops and some of the songwriting lacks polish, but the level of enthusiasm with which the music is performed makes up for a lot.  Besides, when was rock and roll ever about polish over passion?

What’s on your list?

______________

Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 78 Comments

Only benighted beings in Beijing could dream such a list. Even those Beijingers now ensconced with us in Shanghai admit every trip back is a step backward. Nothing you’ve mentioned can be had better (e.g. traffic) or more cheaply (e.g. food) than in Shanghai.

“What’s on your list?” I’m thinking.

Let me think some more on this…

Still thinking…

Okay, okay, the language is what we learned in school, but usually clipped and slurred beyond recognition.

Ah, another! I admit the people in Beijing are more affable than in Shanghai but that’s the trade-off we willingly make here. Beijing is simply oppressive, weighty, dull, rude and crude with some few antiques under glass, it shows in the massy architecture. Not like Shanghai, sassy and irresistable.

July 30, 2008 @ 3:24 pm | Comment

“The ‘Jing.” I’ve said elsewhere, a native Shanghai friend calls it “The World’s Largest Farmer City”.

July 30, 2008 @ 3:28 pm | Comment

Not a competition, Scott…If I lived in Shanghai, I’d have a list of things about that city, but I don’t.

July 30, 2008 @ 3:29 pm | Comment

i haven’t a great love for beijing – but shanghai sassy and irresistable? it really is the paris of the east in that it is populated by stuck up tossers who think they rule the world. the only good thing about shanghai is the location. for culture and friendliness beijing kicks its arse every day of the week and for sophistication so does hong kong (and that really is saying something). shanghai is second choice for people who couldn’t get a job in singapore and want to pretend they’re not slumming it.

July 30, 2008 @ 3:31 pm | Comment

“a native Shanghai friend calls it “The World’s Largest Farmer City”.”

the prosecution rests.

July 30, 2008 @ 3:32 pm | Comment

Si? Apt, but describing your mental state or just acknowledgment of poor comprehension? It’s Beijing that was called “The World’s Largest Farmer City.”

Shanghai second choice? Full of others like myself who’ve travelled widely and choose here, Shanghai, but seemingly hard I know for foreign graduate students in Chinese history with experience of, well, the campus and Beijing to understand.

July 30, 2008 @ 3:51 pm | Comment

Also, Si, rouse yourself out of habitual sloth and use punctuation.

July 30, 2008 @ 3:55 pm | Comment

Jeremiah, of course it’s not a competition. It’s a choice.

July 30, 2008 @ 3:58 pm | Comment

Scott,

You need to relax there, Sparky. I love Shanghai. Been there many times, always have a blast. Might want to live there in the future, but for now the archives and my wife’s job happen to be up here in the north.

This isn’t a competition, it’s about being positive. Why don’t you share with us the things you like about Shanghai rather than getting pissy over nothing.

Would it make it you happy if I helped you by doing a “10 things I like about Shanghai post”? Would that calm you down before your afternoon nap?

July 30, 2008 @ 4:03 pm | Comment

Gee, Spike, you’ve been here and still done that? Not your choice I now see, so you’re in Beijing by default.

No, no, no, carry on, please. Didn’t mean to butt in, but a list of things to like about “the ‘Jing’” (you guys really call it that? Like ‘Frisco or Philly?) just trigger that ire button, especially when the few natives from Beijing I’ve met who’ve left it wouldn’t trade Shanghai to go back.

No need to pump up Shanghai. Please, carry on.

July 30, 2008 @ 4:11 pm | Comment

I have to add that Shanghai is a fantastic walking or biking city. You can go from one end to the other without spending too much time on large, congested roads, and constantly discover architectural gems hidden in nooks and crannies.

July 30, 2008 @ 4:12 pm | Comment

Wow, I miss Beijing insanely. Some of the things I like most are the cinemas, the music stores (where I happen to have bought both Snapline and Joyside) and 香辣土豆丝…

July 30, 2008 @ 4:26 pm | Comment

Ten Things I Hate About Shanghai:

1. Jerks like Scott Loar live there and will never hesitate to tell you how widely traveled they are and how much they live the happening scene in Shanghai, and then procede to look down on whatever place you come from/live in.

2. ok one is enough actually.

July 30, 2008 @ 4:29 pm | Comment

Seems to me most of the complaints about Beijing are based on ignorance. It’s never difficult to get away from the monstrous roads and worse architecture (as if Shanghai was innocent of architectural crimes!), you’ve just got to keep your eyes open for an opportunity, take that turn, and disappear into the alleys, lanes, parks (amen! Prech it, brother Jeremiah! Beijing is a great city for parks!). Call me crazy, Sam G, but I find Beijing to be a really good city for walking and biking. It’s also a great city for walking into some local hole-in-the-wall restaurant, getting a bowl of zhajiangmian and a cold beer, chatting with friends or the boss or whoever happens to be there, and watching the world go by. I would like to add Dalian’s coastline or Changsha’s Yuelushan into the mix, but I don’t get to play with geography….

July 30, 2008 @ 4:34 pm | Comment

Hey! Aqn! I misjudged the level of play here. I returned your ball. I put in the goalposts.

You guys still don’t get the first comment. Inbreeding? Ah, well. Maybe next time.

July 30, 2008 @ 4:48 pm | Comment

Hey! Aqn! I misjudged the level of play here. I returned your ball. I put in the goalposts.

You guys still don’t get the first comment. Social inbreeding? Ah, well. Maybe next time.

July 30, 2008 @ 4:52 pm | Comment

Why does this issue make people so defensive?

Anyway, which city you like isn’t based on its merits so much as the fact that you happened to end up there. Once you have good times in a place and it becomes part of your life, you naturally become attached to it… and if you have bad experiences there, obviously that’s a factor too.

July 30, 2008 @ 4:56 pm | Comment

A night-time ride on the elevated highway in Shanghai is always a Blade Runner-ish experience. So is fighting with Rutger Hauer on the roof of your apartment building.

July 30, 2008 @ 5:10 pm | Comment

Having spent a good deal of time in both cities, I would say the most attractive thing about Beijing, as compared to Shanghai, is the diversity of people you meet, and their genuine interest in China.

Academics, diplomats, reporters, businesspeople, many of whom have lived in Beijing (and/or other parts of China) for upwards of 20 years. People who were there during Tiananmen.

You don’t get that in Shanghai. Not to say that Shanghai is not a great place, its just different in that respect.

July 30, 2008 @ 5:35 pm | Comment

bigdog – I agree. You can find those people here, but it’s harder, and there’s often the requirement to be… glamorous!

July 30, 2008 @ 6:14 pm | Comment

@scott

hit a nerve? he he. sorry if i offended, just trying to get a debate going. my point was a native shanghaier calling beijing “the world’s biggest farmer’s city” just underlines my point about snooty shanghaiers.

you travelled widely and chose shanghai?!? you need to say there’s a job there, surely. otherwise it sounds like “fuck rome, i’m off to slough!”

July 30, 2008 @ 6:36 pm | Comment

[...] courtyards, lawns, apparently free of charge, and being put to good use by the local residents. One of the things I really like about Beijing is the parks. Beijing has plenty of great parks, and not just the old imperial sites, lots of local parks where [...]

July 30, 2008 @ 6:53 pm | Pingback

I love Beijing.

Scott, you are too much. Shanghai has neighborhoods and, in some areas, beautiful architecture. But I have to say, the last few times I was there I couldn’t wait to get back to Beijing. I can only take Shanghai in small doses.

July 30, 2008 @ 9:16 pm | Comment

I love Taipei, especially the National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall and Taipei 101 as well as Shilin night market.

July 30, 2008 @ 10:43 pm | Comment

I’ve been to Shanghai a couple of times. Just hate the taxi drivers there!

July 31, 2008 @ 12:02 am | Comment

Better architecture than that of Beijing though…

July 31, 2008 @ 12:02 am | Comment

I haven’t being to Beijing since its CBD took real shape (which, since we are talking about China, means just a mere few years). But judging from all the pictures its architecture looks more conservative, functional and down to earth (ok, apart from the megalomaniacal follies a la CCTV tower). It just looks like your average, boring business tower cluster.

Shanghai, on the other hand, can feel like a forced ride through an unholy marriage of Tomorrow Land and the Jetsons. A lot of its “Futurism” is of the sort that ages incredibly badly. It has some interesting neighbourhoods and a crazy vibe, but it’s all just too garish to completely fall for.

So, what I like about Beijing? Despite its penchant for monumentalism and empire grand-standing, it always felt strangely down to earth.

Of course, these are sentiments based on the early-to-mid 2000s (2002-2005, that’s like BC in China years) so god knows what the place has become since then. I’m anxious to return for a visit, but will certainly wait for the Olympics circus to blow through town.

July 31, 2008 @ 12:19 am | Comment

Nevermind my list, I just want to know where I can get some leather shoes made! Shenzhen just doesn’t have that kind of thing, far as I know.

July 31, 2008 @ 12:46 am | Comment

Things to love about Beijing (that’s no longer there)

Going through the actual Chao-yang-men Gate Tower

Panorama of Beijing from the top of Meishan (Jingshan Park) on a Fall day (blue sky guaranteed.) The cost of the entire trip with transportation and Beihai included? 5 mao (not the 100 yuan mao, but half yuan)

Frequent summer thunderstorms that flood the streets and yards, water fight time! (with feet, not hands)

Playing marbles on dirt. Play hide and seek in the evening (get very dark then)

Farm fields within the 3rd ring road (3rd ring road was only a half ring then)

Fall fruits that tastier than anything since (either we were hungrier, or the fruits were entirely organic)

You get the idea …

July 31, 2008 @ 12:47 am | Comment

gang fighting with African kids (all embassies were African) in Sanlitun

riding bicycle when you had the right of way

throw stones at our teachers because they were “capitalist roaders”

eating at a table while the next claimant put a foot on the leg of your chair and shaking it

get treated to “xi(1) can(1)” in “Moscow Dining Hall”

July 31, 2008 @ 1:03 am | Comment

Sorry, I’m taking the ball but I promise to give it back.

Richard, I can’t account for your sensitivities, no matter how delicate they may seem to you. I can only take “The ‘Jing” (do you guys really say that?) in very small doses, preferably not overnight.

Si? Your comments remain unintelligible. Also, “slough” is 1) a mire or swamp or 2) that part of skin or dead tissue which animals cast off, both inappropiate (need I say dumb?) to your post but I’m curious as how to you’re going to bluster your way out of this ignorance.

Sam G., not all of us “end up there” or here, some of us choose.

Pete, you fought with Rutger Hauer on the roof of your Shanghai apartment building? A rare experience although I’d prefer a female personality stark naked but – hey! – the experience or analogy was your own.

Bigdog, maybe you should widen your social circle? Life is not defined by transient academics with whom you share 餃子 at night stands. By the way, one of my Beijing friends now working and living in Shanghai was there that night in Tian An Men, and on returning to Beijing must listen to her family – much like you guys – wondering 妳怎麼住上海呢! Clueless, simply clueless. Hubris perhaps.

Sp, Taipei is, well, still Taipei, and little inducement to remain except 繁體字 which remains easier for me to read, but I accept that predelictions often trump other considerations.

Jimmy, Shanghai architecture is generally better than the gargantuism of Beijing but why piss on Shanghai taxi drivers? Maybe I’m slow but in many years I’ve only been cheated maybe once whereas Beijing taxi drivers think every foreigner a mark to exploit or bully. I doubt that Shanghai taxi drivers could exceed those of Beijing in sheer brass and bully.

July 31, 2008 @ 1:05 am | Comment

Reverse_expat, yours is a rare experience of a time now gone and a delight to read. Like the street peddlers of Taipei calling out at night, the songs are long gone.

July 31, 2008 @ 1:17 am | Comment

Talking about street peddlers …

Peasants selling dozens of frog legs from a bicycle, grandmothers stir frying them in 重姜重油

Every fall for exactly three days, fresh 荔枝 from the south flood Beijing markets, we ate them until our mouths were numb. Sorry, you couldn’t get those in Shanghai then

In late fall, buying hundreds of pounds of 大白菜 to store for the winter, only source of vegetable for the next 4 months

I should do a Master Card commercial based on these stuff

July 31, 2008 @ 1:50 am | Comment

Trust Scott to see this as an opportunity to indulge in smug self-satisfaction about where he lives.

If I had to live in any city in China it would be Shanghai (I don’t count Hong Kong because it’s separate in so many ways) for a number of reasons. But I would be lying if I said that there was nothing I liked/loved about Beijing. Maybe the more relaxed/informal atmosphere in a lot of areas, certainly in terms of places to eat out.

July 31, 2008 @ 4:18 am | Comment

things to love about london:

employment opportunities that pay for you to get trashed in expensive cocktail bars, with your colleagues (who you hate).

A societal commitment to human rights, legal aid, advanced justice system. Dem*cracy

Wine bars, discount bookshops in bloomsbury, Interesting architecture, mostly old.

Many free museums, cultural stuff, and Clean Air.

A great array of cheap food, although perhaps not as cheap as 15 RMB.

downsides are:

fear of litigation, stress, no real community, tedious tube rides after 12 hour days, Anonymity – emptiness – fear – loneliness… hangovers. Extortionate rent to live in a bedsit with welfare claimants and ukranians. CCTV everywhere.

July 31, 2008 @ 4:41 am | Comment

J, thanks for this. I love the parks as well, haven’t been to Nanguan, but then, it seems like I find new places every time I’m back in JING CHENG. Some others off the top of my head:
圆明园 It is surreal to walk around here. Especially when you look at the plaques in front of the ruins. Man…
海底捞 The service is actually pretty good here, pretty refreshing.
日坛 An oasis in the middle of the CBD, particularly on those sweltering summer days…
国子监 Great architecture
五道口 、 清华, 文北楼 Yeah, the sidewalks have issues, but you gotta love The Wu.
世界知识出版社(干面胡同)If you can find it…
望京 and its awesome 铁板活章鱼 Definitely worth the cab trip.
后海
马连道 That may not be real Long Jing, but it’s cheap and it’s good. Throw in some 绿茶瓜子 for good measure.
Basketball, provided you can convince your opponents to (1) clip their nails; and (2) play man-on-man.
包子 、 饺子 and all that other good northern fare.
北京人

July 31, 2008 @ 5:09 am | Comment

Just to note, a lot of my favorite things come with qualifications. That’s the nature of Beijing. This city tests your will, but it also offers great rewards to those who give it a chance.
P.S. J, I’m crossing my fingers re the govt. making the traffic restrictions permanent~

July 31, 2008 @ 5:15 am | Comment

P.S.S. Just to follow up on Raj’s HK comment, having lived there for two years, I can say that it’s a great place to work, and ideally situated for easy travel to other places in Asia. The sheer smallness of the place, though, began to weigh on me pretty quickly. I’ve yet to go to Singapore, but I can only imagine what that must be like. Taipei is great in multiple ways. As for Shanghai, I’ve only been there as a tourist, I think I’d probably like it if I got to know the place a bit more.

July 31, 2008 @ 5:23 am | Comment

neil, not sure how this got on to London, but as this is Jeremiah’s thread I’m not going to force the discussion anywhere.

fear of litigation

Only if you have little experience of the courts. If you have a good defence few judges will be tricked by a malicious claimant. The worst that would happen is that you’d have to appeal it, which would mean an even more senior judge looking at the case again.

tedious tube rides after 12 hour days

Use the buses or overground services.

Anonymity

Just wear those name tags you get at parties.

loneliness

Join a society in something you’re interested in.

hangovers

Drink less with colleagues you don’t like.

Extortionate rent to live in a bedsit with welfare claimants and ukranians

Use gumtree.

—-

舒杰瑞

Just to follow up on Raj’s HK comment

For the record, I should point out that I haven’t been to HK – I was simply ruling it out to make things simpler.

July 31, 2008 @ 5:49 am | Comment

@Jeremiah- the “afternoon nap” put-down is priceless.

@Chris- I hesitate to say this, as mainly due to your yeoman efforts Beijing has grown on me some, but I have a difficult time calling it a good walking city. Hutongs excepted, most of the roads are just too wide and the buildings too imposing to be an inspiring place for walks. Also the sheer size of Beijing can make it somewhat intimidating.

July 31, 2008 @ 11:05 am | Comment

[...] response to Jeremiah’s new post at the Peking Duck, I thought I’d pitch in a few reasons to love my adopted home, [...]

July 31, 2008 @ 11:33 am | Pingback

This is going to sound corny and pandering, but the people.

And I love the Beijing accent! Sorry, it’s always going to be what Mandarin should sound like to me.

July 31, 2008 @ 11:42 am | Comment

Scott:

you obviously haven’t been in Shanghai long enough to figure out that the population there is much more transient, and interested in one thing – business and money. That’s fine, but the town does not have the sense of history (except for the facades along the Bund) that Beijing has.

Whereas in Beijing you will find expats who have been there for years and speak excellent Chinese, these are much harder to find in Shanghai, where the general pattern is ‘go there for a few years, live in my company paid for villa, and then get the hell out of Dodge.’ People who go to Beijing, and stay there, generally do so because they like it. Shanghai, hard to find those.

And FYI, a lot of these academics have been in China a lot longer than you.

July 31, 2008 @ 1:11 pm | Comment

Chinese has the saying 各有好处

That’s probably the best way to discuss Beijing v Shanghai

Unfortunately, Scott can’t see past the end of his nose to realize it.

July 31, 2008 @ 1:19 pm | Comment

1. Asia Star restaurant on the 3rd ring road. Some of the best Indian and Malaysian food I’ve had anywhere.

2. The beautiful, lush flower gardens near the northern end of Temple of Heaven.

3. The hunt for baozi filled with chive/mushrooms/meat first thing in the morning at my favorite little hutong stand. Ditto for the delightful, thin savory pancakes.

4. Despite the throngs of tourists, the beautiful tango dance practice near one end of the Temple of Heaven covered walkway.

Yes, my favorites revolve around food and touristy things, but then again, they are my favorites and uniquely Beijing!

July 31, 2008 @ 1:29 pm | Comment

Bigdog, your assumptions about me are as inane as your notions about those you rub shoulders with shallow and should embarrass you but 馬不知臉長.

July 31, 2008 @ 2:37 pm | Comment

i never really took to beijing, but i have to say my top 3 things i liked about that city was

3. solid, hearty, 北方菜. not as nuanced or flashy as elsewhere, but good and filling on a cold winter’s day.

2. zao’r. i find myself craving them, and dates just don’t do it for me.

1. unpretentious 北京人.

July 31, 2008 @ 3:21 pm | Comment

sorry, my initial comments were meant as light hearted joshing. clearly it was taken the wrong way. here is some information about slough (a small town in the uk) for scott

http://tinyurl.com/hczkw

i was going to respond to neil’s comment about london which is, fantastic museums and theatres aside, an over priced dump filled with wankers. but then i thought so is most of southern England and i should just keep my comment short.

@otherlisa

you like the accent? cannot agree with you there – all slurry, nasal and horrible. much prefer standard putonghua

What do people think of chengdu? i spent some time there on holiday and found it charming. not too crowded, laid back, some interesting sites and excellent nearby scenery.

July 31, 2008 @ 3:35 pm | Comment

I’ve always wanted to move to Slough, maybe get into the paper business…

July 31, 2008 @ 3:41 pm | Comment

I like my little oasis in the middle of a metropolitan sprawl in 魏公村。Yes… that little precious street next to 北外。Small shops, nice trees, lots of ethnic groups living with Han, simple lives, everything is accessible… it’s inside Beijing, but it doesn’t seem so. And my apartment complex has the most peaceful courtyard.

July 31, 2008 @ 3:44 pm | Comment

Si, the reference to Slough completely escaped me, yet another reason for you to follow standard punctuation.

Chengdu (it is laid back, easy, and the width of the major thoroughfares impresses me almost as much as the sight of a single car blocking four lanes of traffic) and Kunming (great weather) are the only other cities I’d consider living in as the many others I visit are indistinguishable: sprawls of dreary buildings, tarted up shopping centers, dust and noise, knots of cars, bikes and motorcycles carooming off each other, and like the US more and more goods in common as local brands fade away. Local foods and flavours remain but the goods in shops become ever more homogeneous, and that local handicraft bought years ago can no longer be had.

The women of Chengdu are considered beauties but traditionally had no such reputation, not like West Lake. I think the exaggeration comes from parvenue of the coastal cities (yes, including the lunks from Beijing) who would fly into the hinterlands that were then Chengdu and Chongqing for business, frolic at cheap expense, then return with bragging rights. Xinjiang is getting the same kind of reputation.

There are famous spots around Chengdu but travelling by car from Chengdu to Chongqing note the terraced hillsides, the amount of work it took to build then maintain them, yet now more and more are abandoned, given over to grass and vines as the young stream to Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Shanghai for wages, the same bloody reason why young from the surrounding provinces stream to Beijing for work that is dirty, dangerous and ill-paid. Many have nothing to earn by but labour or selling smiles.

July 31, 2008 @ 4:37 pm | Comment

Scott, ‘Slough’ is also the name of a town in England, and the eponymous subject of the poem “Slough” by John Betjeman. So who’s the ignorant one here?

Chris, I have to say, I’m not sold on Beijing as a good walking city either, unless you’re really in the mood for it. Exceptions: inside the second ring road, on a nice spring or early fall night, or during a World Cup game when all the oldsters in the alleys move their TVs onto the street and sit around jawing. It is, however, a fantastic biking city, which I understand cannot be said of Shanghai.

The quality and variety of food available in Beijing is just awesome. There are a few gaps in the city’s palate (some Vietnamese food and Georgia barbecue would be nice), but in general you can get anything you want, any time you want, and usually within walking distance. And if you’ve got a bike…well! In my current apartment I’m a five-minute bike ride away from dim sum, Shaanxi noodles, Beijing-style potstickers, a hole-in-the-wall Guizhou joint, and some of the finest Sichuan and Hunan food available, all 24-hours except for the Guizhou place.
And the street food! 煎饼 in the morning with a bag of 豆浆, and 糖葫芦 in the wintertime, made fresh so the glaze crackles, and 麻辣烫 out on the sidewalk when you need something to balance out the cheap beers you’ve been having with your friends.

I really like the people here. There are plenty of pricks too, of course, but there’s something in the Beijing attitude that frequently makes for good conversation. Beijingers have a great sense of humor, too — check out the series 编辑部的故事 on Youku or Tudou for examples of same, or the novels of Wang Shuo.

Sort of in the vein of reverse_expat’s comments (which were excellent!), one of the things I really like is when you stumble upon a fragment of old Beijing, or find out about the long-vanished building or road a neighborhood is named after. And in a more bittersweet vein, I always find it fascinating to think of the things that might have been if, e.g., Liang Sicheng’s plan had won out and the city wall had been kept as a public park, moving development (and, presumably, prestige projects) outside the Second Ring. (A similar game, if you ever really want to make yourself sad, is to imagine what things might be like today if basically nothing from the Hundred Flowers movement on to the end of the Cultural Revolution had ever happened.)

Also, have to chime in with otherlisa on the accent. Beijing Mandarin is Chinese the way Jesus spoke it, and no two ways about it. (Some heretics believe that Jesus spoke Hakka; I won’t dignify those claims with a discussion.) I suppose it’s a matter of personal taste, but come on — listen to the actors Ge You or Jiang Wen and tell me you wouldn’t want to sound like that.

July 31, 2008 @ 4:42 pm | Comment

Scott:

At least I keep an open mind, much more than I can say about you. Its pretty obvious from your comments that you have limited experience in China, and especially interacting with locals, so it is not surprising that your comments reflect a narrow minded view of the two cities.

You are the one who should be embarrassed by your comments – kind of like the frog in the well.

July 31, 2008 @ 4:45 pm | Comment

Brendan:

Great comments. You really expressed what Beijing is made up of – and you are right about the walking, stay inside the 2nd ring road, but there are also walks around the Jian Wai/Ritan/Chaowai areas that are great as well. But made a lot better in the fall.

July 31, 2008 @ 4:57 pm | Comment

Bigdog like many here – especially habitues of China blogs but, of course, in English – arrogate to themselves superior knowledge of China and define themselves mostly by their experience here, no matter how brief or limited, and their trump card is always to claim how much they’re in with the locals. But they’re not really dependent on locals or local understanding for a livelihood to support a family, but are just coasters. So too, like many Chinese who in any disagreement will run for the moral high ground rather than argue the actualities and merits Bigdog and his ilk, mostly here to put in their first few years of academic research or manage temporary employment, fall back behind I-Know-China-Better-Than-You-Do and throw spitwads of spite to prove it.

Hey, Brendan! Si didn’t capitalize Slough, and from the context I couldn’t immediately see he intended a place. Sorry, but I don’t always get the point from text message-style punctuation and grammar, u c? .

July 31, 2008 @ 5:23 pm | Comment

Scott:

Huh? You really have lost the plot.

July 31, 2008 @ 5:39 pm | Comment

And Scott:

I have 15 years of experience in China, so your comments just show how ridiculous and limited your grasp of things is.

just get off this blog so intelligent people can discuss adult things.

July 31, 2008 @ 5:47 pm | Comment

How’s every one missed this gem: listening to a pair of 老北京 arguing.

July 31, 2008 @ 5:48 pm | Comment

Post and Comments Summary:

Here’s a few good things about Beijing. What do you like?
I don’t like Beijing, I like Shanghai.
Yes but this is about Beijing.
Beijing sucks and I will comment on Shanghai if I fucking want to.
Taipei isn’t bad.
Well thank you for your input. Anyone else?
That Shanghai guy is an idiot.
You are an uneducated dolt!
Your mother wears combat boots and your father served Mao on his knees!
Nyah! Nyah Nyah!
Nyahnyahnyah!
Oh, nobody mentioned this cool thing.
Nyah!
Nyahnyahnyah!

July 31, 2008 @ 5:58 pm | Comment

Scott, are you always this irritating? What are you – a man determined to prove he’s superior to everyone else and who thumbs his nose at those who read blogs about China in English – doing here? And haven’t you heard the news – that people who constantly try to impress others with how smart they are tend to look more disturbed than they do deep?

July 31, 2008 @ 6:00 pm | Comment

Michael, it’s not quite that bad. If Scott hadn’t taken the thread over it would’ve been pretty decent.

Oh, and thanks for the best comment of the day, Brendan. A dubious honor.

July 31, 2008 @ 6:01 pm | Comment

@brendan

thanks for the comments. and ok, i concede the point about ge you. but you have to admit for every ge you there’s someone with a voice like a eastern european car trying to start on frosty morning.

i liked what you have to say about thinking about what might have been. Have you read “Wild Grass” by Ian Johnson? There’s a fascinating section on the treatment of old Beijing.

I was worried when you said there is no Vietnamese in Beijing. Did you mean good Vietnamese or not many Vietnamese? there used to be a decent place in hou hai, i forget its name. is it still there?

July 31, 2008 @ 6:04 pm | Comment

reverse_expat: One of my favorite exchanges was something I heard from a true-blue Beijinger and some gawky young kid from the countryside on the subway a couple of years ago:

Country kid (to nobody in particular): 哇,俺都没坐过14号线呐!
Beijing guy standing next to him: 傻.
C: 真没坐过!
B: 真傻.

July 31, 2008 @ 6:05 pm | Comment

Si: I have a copy of Wild Grass back in the States, but I don’t think I ever got around to reading it. As for Vietnamese — sorry; I meant good Vietnamese. And I guess I should qualify that — there is a good Viet place at Huamao that offers the least-bad pho I’ve had here, but it’s pricey and fancy, which goes against the ethos of Vietnamese food as far as I’m concerned. The place at Houhai (if you mean Nuage) is still there, I think, or at least was the last time I went to Houhai, but I was never all that bowled over by it, nice decor notwithstanding.

(Sorry — everyone else is derailing this thread; thought I might as well.)

July 31, 2008 @ 6:13 pm | Comment

maybe it was my fault. i thought maybe we could have a bit of light hearted bantering but clearly was mistaken. apologies to all.

July 31, 2008 @ 6:24 pm | Comment

@Scott
Gratuitously throwing in a reference to a “stark naked female personality” is a little embarassing, don’t you think?

As for Shanghai being “sassy and irresistible”, there are plenty of folks here (I’m in Shanghai) who share your delusion. It certainly is an exciting city but currently lacks depth and is sometimes prone to a snobbishness that is anything but irresistable.

@Brendan
Shanghai is totally flat and a great city to bike around.

July 31, 2008 @ 6:40 pm | Comment

sorry i just realised i didn’t write my own suggestions:

1. autumn in beijing (pity about winter, spring and summer!)
2. houhai – before they turned it into one big bar
3. walking on the lake at the summer palace in the winter
4. the great wall – cliched but true. nothing beats hiking on the great wall.
5. the old summer palace
6. beihai, the drum and bell tower and the surroundings (if still there)
7. the hutongs (stop knocking them down dammit! And stop building cheap imitations)

i was last there over two years ago, so don’t know how much it has changed…

July 31, 2008 @ 7:08 pm | Comment

Another favorite is Temple of the Azure Clouds 碧云寺. Why don’t some of our Shanghai friends list some of their favorite things about that city?

July 31, 2008 @ 10:56 pm | Comment

I really love Bejing! It´s so beautiful, so many beautiful spots to visit and the people are great. I totally agree with you. Nice blog, btw.!

August 1, 2008 @ 12:13 am | Comment

If you want a good list of what is most charming and individual about Beijing, you can take a look at those Olympic etiquette-Nazis’ latest lists of prohibitions. In a city this hot and humid, it makes perfect sense to wear your pyjamas in the daytime (and it’s not just old folks making house calls on their neighbours that do this). Ditto, going shirtless, if that’s your preference. I love counting up each summer to see which faction is most numerous.

Low cost is a big attraction here, too. Yeah, sure, there’s a little bit of Olympic inflation going on at the moment, and every year there’s an insidious creep of more and more upscale, wannabe-Shanghai places opening; but the hole-in-the-wall restaurant and dive bar culture is still thriving. I’ve never found anywhere in Shanghai where you can get a steamer of jiaozi for 2.50, or a Tsingtao in a bar for 10 – and I have certainly looked. From my experience, I’d say Beijing is still one of the cheapest major cities in China – not just way cheaper than Shanghai, but also than Hangzhou, Nanjing, Guangzhou, and perhaps even Dalian and Qingdao, and not much more expensive than the likes of Chongqing and Kunming.

And could I say a word for Beijing cabbies too? They may not always know where the hell they’re going, but they’re always colourful characters. And they’re so darned numerous that – outside of rush hour in the CBD – you rarely have to wait more than 10 seconds to flag one down.

Kite-flying.

Street corner chess games.

Old ladies practicing their fan dance routine outside my local pharmacy.

Rooftop bars.

Sunset over Houhai.

Becoming known in your neighbourhood – smiles of recognition and greeting are so nice (even though I speak bugger-all Chinese). A few weeks ago the laoban of my favourite Xinjiang place chased me down the street to give me a refund when he realised he’d goofed up my bill by a few kuai.

I even love the relentless rickshaw touts trying to sell me a ride when I’m walking home with my groceries.

OK, you could find a lot of this anywhere in China – but we like to think that in Beijing it’s all got its own special style. This place drives me absolutely crazy much of the time, but I wouldn’t live anywhere else. Certainly not Shanghai.

August 1, 2008 @ 6:09 pm | Comment

Mr Loar, the only thing you have achieved with this thread is to confirm my suspicion that Shanghainese are the Aucklanders of China, and I assure you, two thirds of the population of New Zealand will not pass the time of day with an Aucklander. Pity, I’ve always stubbornly held on to the belief that there might actually be something worth seeing in Shanghai before the mudpile sinks beneath the waves, despite what my wife and almost everybody I know who’s ever been there has told me about the mudpile.

Matt and Brendan: I’m sorry, I’ve always been quite happy to walk absurd distances just for the hell of it. But with my walking comment I was thinking primarily within the second ring road.

And might I add to the list of things to love about Beijing:
Mentougou, Yanqing and Miyun. Especially Yanqing (of course).

August 1, 2008 @ 9:46 pm | Comment

Chriswaugh – how could I forget to mention Yanqing?!

August 2, 2008 @ 1:29 am | Comment

Oh. Oops. In my stupor of last night, I read “Yanjing.” My favorite Chinese beer. Um, I’ll just quietly make my exit now…

August 2, 2008 @ 3:43 pm | Comment

A few years ago I had dinner with an acquaintance in Shanghai government who – when told that longer-term expats in Beijing and Shanghai disparage each other like the natives – refused to believe me, and asked for proof. So, I did the natural thing, and I offered myself as proof, and thus began a long, baijiu-infused tirade against China’s North that has bound us ever since. Thanks to all here, but especially the very under-appreciated Scott_Loar, who has now given me an excuse to email this gentleman after having not spoken to him in several months. His English is poor, but when I tell him the nature of this thread, well, he won’t be able to resist throwing some poor soul at it for translation.

This is a Beijing crowd, no doubt, and so I tread carefully when I note that – among the finer breed of Shanghai expats – we truly believe that you spend your days talking of politics and architecture, but are otherwise incapable of getting anything done in a reasonable amount of time. And I’ll leave it at that.

That noted, in the spirit of listing what is good about Shanghai, let me suggest that you have not truly lived until you spend an early evening walking down the French Concession’s still intact lanes while the cicadas sing around you. Incomparable.

August 2, 2008 @ 6:04 pm | Comment

Otherlisa: Yanqing has the best Yanjing brews. The 燕京干啤 I buy by the crateload from the nearest store to my in-laws’ house is vastly superior to any Yanjing brew south of the Jundushan.

Mr Minter: We have far more to talk about than just politics and architecture, and I, for one, am quite happy to take unreasonable amounts of time to get things done. Your French Concession suggestion sounds pretty good, though, if I ever get down to Shanghai, I’ll give it a go.

August 3, 2008 @ 5:55 pm | Comment

Beijing’s best feature is the departure lounge at the international airport. The best feeling you can ever have in Beijing is of leaving it.

August 4, 2008 @ 6:26 pm | Comment

Shangers and the Jing both have good and bad points.

August 16, 2008 @ 9:57 pm | Comment

I can understand the Beijing – Shanghai hate in the comments here. Without blue sky most of the year, a beautiful coastline, fabulous inexpensive food (try a jin of oysters for 6 Yuan, or a jin of fresh king prawns for 8 Yuan froog), congestion free roads, and beautiful friendly people, I’d imagine there’d be a lot of pent-up rage.

Chill out, move to Dalian!

:)

May 25, 2009 @ 9:11 pm | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.